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Published: December 4, 2014

Future Earth announces major research agenda

News |

The Future Earth research programme has published its Strategic Research Agenda following a year-long global consultation on the priorities for global change research. Experts have identified eight key challenges for sustainable development.

The research agenda comes in advance of major international policy processes taking place in 2015 on climate change and global Sustainable Development Goals.


The eight global sustainability challenges driving this agenda focus on:


  1. Delivering water, energy, and food for all.
  2. Decoupling carbon emissions from economic growth.
  3. Safeguarding land, freshwater and marine natural assets.
  4. Building healthy, resilient and productive cities.
  5. Promoting sustainable rural futures.
  6. Improving human health by incorporating global change concerns.
  7. Encouraging sustainable consumption and production patterns.
  8. Improving governance and early warning systems to respond to complex future threats.


Straight to report:

Strategic Research Agenda 2014


The document calls for a step-change in research to address serious environmental, social and economic threats.


It urges the private sector, governments and civil society to work with researchers to co-design and co-produce a more agile global innovation system. The plan is the outcome of an unprecedented global consultation over the past year.


“Science is crucial if we are to address today’s complex, interconnected issues – achieving water, energy and food security, in the context of climate change, while decarbonising energy sources and safeguarding Earth’s life-support systems,” says Frans Berkhout, Interim Director of Future Earth.


“If we are to meet society’s emerging needs, and adequately inform businesses, policymakers and practitioners with actionable knowledge, I believe that funding for solutions-oriented integrated research must increase rapidly and substantially.  This must go hand in hand with a commitment from researchers and policy-makers to engage more closely to ensure the relevance of their work.”


Belinda Reyers, Vice Chair of Future Earth’s Science Committee, says,

“Using sustainability challenges, societal needs and policy priorities to direct our science makes it both more relevant and accessible,”


“And by engaging non-scientists in this process, it also shapes the outputs and their implementation to make them more relevant for society.”


The Strategic Research Agenda 2014 focuses on three themes: firstly, on understanding how the planet is changing; secondly, on deploying integrated, interdisciplinary science to address urgent sustainable development needs; and thirdly, on transforming development to be more sustainable in the long term.


“We must start to envision what a positive future looks like and work to make this happen” says Bob Watson, Chair of Future Earth’s Interim Engagement Committee.


The plan sets out priorities to transform the science agenda by taking a systems view of global environmental challenges, integrating social and natural sciences.


"The world is changing at an ever-increasing rate, and dealing with these complex problems in a business-as-usual way just won't keep up," says Mark Stafford Smith, Chair of Future Earth's Science Committee. "Research desperately needs a seismic shift towards being more nimble in framing and prioritising the problems we work on, to ensure that we find concrete solutions with decision makers."


'The Belmont Forum calls on the global science community to engage in taking this new agenda forward and delivering on it,” says Albert van Jaarsveld, Chair of the Belmont Forum of funders. The Strategic Research Agenda was developed at the request of the Belmont Forum, part of the Science and Technology Alliance for Global Sustainability, the sponsors of Future Earth.


The document is the result of a consultation process with global environmental change research communities and stakeholders from business, government and civil society, as well as an open online survey that received contributions from people in 74 countries worldwide.


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